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Misinformed Movie Star In Iran Falls For Fake News, Lands in Trouble

Mahnaz Afshar, Iranian actress and celebrity. File photo
Mahnaz Afshar, Iranian actress and celebrity. File photo

A popular movie star has been targeted by hardliners on Iranian social media after she took a "fake news" post too seriously and shared it with millions of her fans.

The hardliners have accused Mahnaz Afshar, also known for her charity work and sympathy for political prisoners, of encouraging violence after she shared a post that alleged a cleric had asked Iranian women to sleep with Iraqi militia based on “sighe” temporary marriage contract allowed in the Shiite sect. Members of the militia are currently in Iran presumably to help with flood relief.

A cleric whose name and picture was used in the fake news, filed a complaint against the superstar who was only one of the thousands of Iranians who shared the post with others.

Mahnaz Afshar, has more than 7 million followers on Instagram and nearly 1 million fans on Facebook, as well as many others on Twitter. She has recently tweeted her selfie with jailed labor union activist Esmail Bakhshi.

In one of her posts last week, she criticized the cleric who allegedly encouraged Iranian women to agree to temporary marriage with members of the visiting Iraqi militia.

The saga for Afshar started when another mid-ranking Shi'ite cleric was gunned down in broad daylight on April 27 outside the seminary where he worked in the city of Hamadan. Less than a day later, it was officially confirmed that the assailant was killed in a gunfight with security forces.

According to semi-official news agency ISNA, , Hajiloui, a "thug with a criminal record," shot Mostafa Qassemi twice using a Kalashnikov rifle in front of the seminary.

Hajiloui had confessed to the crime in a now-deleted post on his Instagram account, the IRGC-run Fars news agency reported.

Meanwhile, a video message re-posted on May 1 on YouTube by someone claiming to be a friend of the assailant said the killing was a response to clerics who have urged Iranian women to enter temporary marriages as a commendable religious act with members of the Iraqi Shi'ite militia Hashd al-Shaabi who have entered Iran at the commander of IRGC’s Qods Force Qassem Soleimani.

The video's authenticity has not yet been proven, but as it was re-published under the logo of a website (Young Journalists Club or YJC) affiliated with Iran's state TV, some Iranian hardliners presented it as unquestionable proof of an orchestrated move against the clergy among social media users in Iran.

A cleric, Ghaffar Daryabari, has since come forward declaring that the picture used in the tweet attacked by Afshar belongs to him, while he has never had an account on Twitter.
"Somebody has made a fake account using my picture," said Ghaffar Daryabari , a young seminary scholar in the province of Mazandaran in norther Iran, after filing a legal complaint against Afshar.

"I have never talked about the militia or invited Iranian women to relent to temporary marriage with Iraqis," Daryabari said.

Afshar insists that she did not know the tweet was fake when she shared it.

The YJC, responsible for re-posting the controversial video on YouTube, reported on May 1 that an arrest warrant was issued for Afshar. This could have been yet another fake news, as other news outlets say Afshar has only been summoned to court for further explanation.

The killing shocked seminaries across Iran to the extent that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the authorities to crack down on the online trade in firearms.

Some social media users have said that the story about the actress is being amplified by the government to undermine other reports including those about labor unrest and high inflation.